Wal-mart Targets Aberdeen

Retail Giant Eyes Site On Route 715

April 26, 1992|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff writer

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the nation's largest retailer, is seeking approval to build a 93,000-square-foot store in Aberdeen, the town's planning director said last week.

Wal-Mart began expanding into Maryland last year and so far has opened four stores.

The potential Wal-Mart site is located north of Route 715 and directly across from the Frito-Lay plant under construction.

A spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, based in Bentonville, Ark., said she could not comment on the Aberdeen proposal. Wal-Mart has 1,735 stores nationwide.

Last year, the company's sales were $43.9 billion.

The Aberdeen store would employ about 200 people, said Simon R. Ruderman, Aberdeen's director of planning and community development.

But the huge store would be a mixed blessing for Aberdeen, said Ruderman.

He says the new jobs and additional taxes would be welcome. But he also isconcerned about the effect the giant chain's presence would have on small local stores.

Sandra Ferriter, associate professor in business administration at Harford Community College, said Wal-Mart's presence would force local retailers to rethink the way they do business.

Wal-Mart buys its merchandise in high volume and passes price savings onto its customers, said Ferriter.

"This can make it very difficult for competitors to beat Wal-Mart price-wise," she said.

Ruderman cautioned that Wal-Mart has not yet bought land because there isstill some uncertainty about what size property they would need for the store.

Wal-Mart has changed its mind about the size lot it needs "three times in the last couple of months," said Ruderman.

The store wants to purchase enough land so that if it decided to expand, it could do so without problems.

"First they wanted expansion space for a 30,000-square-foot addition, and then a 60,000-square-foot addition and then a 90,000-square-foot addition," Ruderman said.

Thesite Wal-Mart would like to build the store on is owned by Robert Smelkinson, according to J. Gary Lee, principal owner of the Whitehall-based real estate brokerage firm Lee Organization Inc.

Lee, who isnegotiating the land sale, said Smelkinson has owned the property for about three years. He declined to discuss a potential purchase price.

He said the property has been under contract to Wal-Mart for "several months."

This standard real estate practice gives the potential buyer time to "exercise due diligence," such as completing engineering studies and plans for a building, Lee said.

The property is28 acres. Wal-Mart is interested in purchasing about 20 acres, Lee said.

Wal-Mart is planning ahead for expansion space because it maydecide to turn the store into one of its "super centers" -- combination grocery-department stores, says Robert L. Waslov, project managerfor CEI Engineering Associates Inc. in Columbia. CEI is designing the site plan for Wal-Mart.

Initially, the store would have 611 parking spaces and could add more for a total of 984 spaces if it expands, he said.

If the project is approved by Aberdeen, Wal-Mart will break ground in July and open for the Christmas shopping season, said Waslov.

Last year Wal-Mart opened three Maryland stores: in PrinceFrederick, Easton and Hagerstown. A store in Waldorf opened last month.

So far, the company has formally announced plans to open stores this year in Elkton, Glen Burnie and Ellicott City.

A Wal-Mart planned for Westminster should be open by fall, according to Morgan-Keller Inc. of Frederick, the general contractor.

Sam Walton, a 74-year-old billionaire who recently died of bone cancer, founded the Wal-Mart chain in Rogers, Ark., in 1962, concentrating on the under-served areas of the rural South and Midwest.

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